Tuesday, December 1, 2009

HIV, AIDS, and Older People

Grace was dating again. George, a close family friend she had known for a long time, was starting to stay overnight more and more often. Because she was past childbearing age, Grace didn't think about using condoms. And because she had known George for so long, she didn't think to ask him about his sexual history. So, Grace was shocked when she tested positive for HIV.

What Is HIV? What Is AIDS?
Like most people, you probably have heard a lot about HIV and AIDS. You may have thought that these diseases weren't your problem and that only younger people have to worry about them. But anyone at any age can get HIV/AIDS.
HIV (short for human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the immune system—the system your body uses to fight off diseases. HIV infection leads to a much more serious disease called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When the HIV infection gets in your body, your immune system can be made weaker. This puts you in danger of getting other life-threatening diseases, infections, and cancers. When that happens, you have AIDS. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. If you think you may have HIV, it is very important to get tested. Today there are drugs that can help your body keep the HIV in check and fight against AIDS.
What Are the Symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
Many people have no symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. It can take as little as a few weeks for minor, flu-like symptoms to show up, or more than 10 years for more serious symptoms to appear. Signs of HIV include headache, cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of energy, loss of appetite, weight loss, fevers and sweats, repeated yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores in the mouth or on certain parts of the body, or short-term memory loss.

Is HIV/AIDS Different in Older People?
A growing number of older people now have HIV/AIDS. Almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country are age 50 and older. This is because doctors are finding HIV more often than ever before in older people and because improved treatments are helping people with the disease live longer.
But there may even be many more cases than we know about. Why? One reason may be that doctors do not always test older people for HIV/AIDS and so may miss some cases during routine check-ups. Another may be that older people often mistake signs of HIV/AIDS for the aches and pains of normal aging, so they are less likely than younger people to get tested for the disease. Also, they may be ashamed or afraid of being tested. People age 50 and older may have the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in the late stages.
The number of HIV/AIDS cases among older people is growing every year because:
• Older Americans know less about HIV/AIDS than younger people do. They do not always know how it spreads or the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, getting tested for HIV and talking about it with their doctor.
• Healthcare workers and educators often do not talk with middle-aged and older people about HIV/AIDS prevention.
• Older people are less likely than younger people are to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors.
• Doctors may not ask older patients about their sex lives or drug use or talk to them about risky behaviors.

Facts About HIV/AIDS
You may have read or heard things that are not true about how you get HIV/AIDS. Here are the FACTS:
You cannot get HIV through casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging a person with HIV/AIDS.
You cannot get HIV from using a public telephone, drinking fountain, restroom, swimming pool, whirlpool, or hot tub.
You cannot get HIV from sharing a drink.
You cannot get HIV from being coughed or sneezed on by a person with HIV/AIDS.
You cannot get HIV from giving blood.
You cannot get HIV from a mosquito bite.
Anyone facing a serious disease like HIV/AIDS may become very depressed. This is a special problem for older people, who may not have a strong network of friends or family who can help.At the same time, they also may be coping with other diseases common to aging such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart problems. As the HIV/AIDS gets worse, many will need help getting around and caring for themselves. Older people with HIV/AIDS need support and understanding from their doctors, family, and friends.
HIV/AIDS can affect older people in yet another way. Many younger people who are infected turn to their parents and grandparents for financial support and nursing care. Older people who are not themselves infected by the virus may find they have to care for their own children with HIV/AIDS and then sometimes for their orphaned or HIV-infected grandchildren. Taking care of others can be mentally, physically, and financially draining. This is especially true for older caregivers. The problem becomes even worse when older caregivers have AIDS or other serious health problems. Remember, it is important to get tested for HIV/AIDS early. Early treatment increases the chances of living longer.

Treatment and Prevention
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. But if you become infected, there are drugs that help keep the HIV virus in check and slow the spread of HIV in the body. Doctors are now using a combination of drugs called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) to treat HIV/AIDS. Although it is not a cure, HAART is greatly reducing the number of deaths from AIDS in this country.
Remember, there are things you can do to keep from getting HIV/AIDS. Practice the steps below to lower your risk:
If you are having sex, make sure your partner has been tested and is free of HIV. Use male or female condoms (latex or polyurethane) during sexual intercourse.
Do not share needles or any other equipment used to inject drugs.
Get tested if you or your partner had a blood transfusion.
Get tested if you or your partner has had an operation or blood transfusion.

Courtesy: http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/hiv-aids.htm

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